Most of the bad news you hear about Gaza is true. There are chronic fuel shortages here: this week I’ve seen hundreds of men queuing to refill their empty canisters of cooking gas, so they can cook at home, and hundreds of drivers queuing outside one gas station in Gaza city, desperately hoping they can refuel their cars. There are constant shortages of electricity, fresh drinking water (because the electric water pumps keep shutting down), fresh milk, medicines and hearing aids - which the Government of Israel won’t allow into Gaza for ‘security’ reasons. Israel has also banned construction materials, which is why a lot of the Gaza Strip literally looks like a bomb site.
The Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip started almost a year ago, just after the Hamas take-over of Gaza in June 2007. The Israeli Government has proved brilliantly, mercilessly clever at ensuring it allows just enough supplies into Gaza: enough food aid so that no-one will starve here; enough fuel so there are still some cars, and ambulances, on the streets; enough medicines so the hospitals can carry on coping with people being shot and maimed, and stressed and poor. Gaza is living on rations, and under siege, and many people here are sad and exhausted and losing hope.
But you probably haven’t heard the other side of the Gaza story: how the food here is wonderful: home-made, rich, succulent and spicy: the fruit and vegetables are luscious, the weather is great, and the brilliant blue Mediterranean sea flanks the entire Strip. Last night we bought sardines from fisherpeople on the beach: we fried them, drenched them in fresh lemon juice, and cooed as we ate. Gaza may be sad and deprived and war-torn, but it’s also stunningly beautiful, and rich and alive, and Gazans love their country. I feel lucky to be here.